Rockbridge Academy Blog
Information or Transformation
By Roy Griffith, Headmaster
"Formation of the soul–both mind and heart–not only makes us more human, it provides the ability to effectively discern and properly act on whatever data the world streams our way."
Few people recognize the name Claude Elwood Shannon. Born in Petoskey, Michigan in 1916, young Claude loved to tinker with mechanical and electrical things. He was known in the neighborhood for turning the barbed-wire fence that ran the half-mile between his house and his friend’s into a working telegraph, allowing the boys to send secret messages back and forth. Never mind flashing lanterns between bedroom windows like normal kids, Claude preferred his Morse code electrified, thank you very much.
As a teen, Claude worked as a messenger with Western Union (go figure!) but went on to earn dual bachelor’s degrees in electrical engineering and mathematics at the University of Michigan. Moving on to MIT for graduate school, it was Claude Shannon who first connected the 1’s and 0’s of Boolean algebra to the simple “on/off” of an electrical circuit.
Shannon’s adaptation of algebraic logic to circuits was the theory behind the workings of modern-day computers. And it was Claude’s master’s thesis of 1937 that most people credit as the inception of today’s digital revolution. This ability to distill thought into electrical circuits not only revolutionized industrial economy of Shannon’s day, it soon overshadowed it. The Industrial Age of mass production into which the baby-boom generation was born has given way to today’s Digital Age of mass information.
It’s scary to think about how much digital information is created in a day. Just consider how many cellphone pictures are snapped each moment throughout the world, not to mention all the texts, emails, video, coding, etc… and this all made accessible to anyone by the internet. The amount of data circulating in the world boggles the mind. A well-known technology periodical (a digital magazine, of course) estimates that by 2020 the total bytes of digital data flowing through all the world’s circuitry will equal the number of grains of sand on all the shores of the earth… multiplied by 57!
It is easy to shake our heads in disbelief at such a proliferation of information. We might long for simpler times when barbed-wire telegraphs were a novelty. It is certainly daunting to consider how to prepare your grandchildren to deal with all of this information constantly available from so many glowing screens. How can anyone process it all? How can anyone possibly keep up?
"There will always be more information. The higher priority is formation."
The short answer is that no one can keep up with it all; and we must battle the lie that we have to. We don’t need bigger “hard drives” in our head to hold more data. What we do need, and what Rockbridge Academy is seeking to impart to this next generation, is the ability to think. There will always be more information. The higher priority is formation. Formation of the soul–both mind and heart–not only makes us more human, it provides the ability to effectively discern and properly act on whatever data the world streams our way.
Education that is preoccupied with merely stuffing children’s heads with information while insisting on constant access to more and more data is a failed education. That is why today’s common tactic of giving each youngster a computer screen in the classroom is a failed strategy. Yes, our kids can access a fire hose of data on the internet, but who is teaching them to think? Who is modeling for them what is worthy of their affections? Certainly, information is an important part of education, but in many ways it is only grist for the mill of training the mind and the heart to think, to love, and, finally, to act. So how might this be done? We believe the answer can be found in classical Christian education and the Trivium (the grammar, logic, rhetoric stages of learning).
In the grammar years, students receiving a classical Christian education are taught how to fill their minds with rich information, honing the young child’s already innate ability to memorize, categorize, and admire what is true, good, and beautiful. Scripture, poetry, song, chant, scientific taxonomy, stories of history and literature, are worthy grist for little souls.
Meanwhile, budding adolescents become adept at argument. God has wired them this way. Therefore, by training them in logic and debate, these minds are formed to argue well, and students are capable of pulling apart the information coming at them from all sides to question the logical fallacies they see.
The rhetoric years capitalize on an older teen’s desire to make a difference, and so the high school student is taught to draw together all he has learned, thereby forming his opinions into a persuasive, compelling case. Rhetoric students learn to be wise and winsome, to appreciate others’ arguments, and to acknowledge that there is a Truth, a Goodness, and a Beauty by which all information can be weighed. Through it all, we challenge them to examine what they really love and consider whether those things are worthy of their affections.
"Education that is preoccupied with merely stuffing children’s heads with information while insisting on constant access to more and more data is a failed education."
Because it is concerned with formation, there is something timeless about such an education. Ironically, Claude Elwood Shannon’s ability to think (without a computer screen) birthed the current digital revolution we are enjoying. However, he was a product of a very different era, where minds were naturally trained by mining information slowly out of real books, where the natural beauty of the Michigan countryside was not eclipsed by screenshots, and where character was formed by hard circumstances forcing you to make the most out of what you had–even a barbed wire fence.
Don’t get me wrong, the Digital Age is a gift from God. The question is, how will we use it? Will we be satisfied to lazily download information into our children’s heads and call the job done, or will we insist on the thoughtful formation of their souls?